Opera for beginners: 'The Magic Flute'

Opera for beginners 
By Walter Ang
September 15, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

This September, Filipinos who've always wanted to try watching an opera but were too intimidated will finally have a chance to get their feet (and ears) wet with a one-hour children's version of the fantasy-opera "The Magic Flute" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

"To be honest, even I get bored sometimes when I listen to opera," says director Kokoy Jimenez. With that in mind, he and Karla Gutierrez, the president of the Philippine Opera Company (POC), developed the concept of staging a "colorful, entertaining, and visually interesting" production using black theater, puppets and animation.

"The Magic Flute" tells of Prince Tamino's quest to find the beautiful Pamina, whose image he has fallen in love with. During his search, Tamino gains a sidekick in Papageno, a bird-catcher, and encounters a myriad of weird and unique characters such as the Queen of the Night
(Pamina's grand but menacing mother), Sarastro (a high priest) and even a talking dragon. The prince will have to overcome ordeals to win his damsel in distress.

Eclectic Jimenez was chosen by the POC to bring this story to life because of his eclectic directorial experience. Aside from having directed the original Filipino musical "Kenkoy Loves Rosing," he directs "all sorts of productions like corporate shows and concerts." The most recent ones he's done were for Mitch Valdez and Gabby Concepcion. He'll also be helming the upcoming Apo Hiking Society concert at the Araneta Coliseum.

Aside from the shortened running time from the original three hours, the opera will be sung in English. "We had sportscaster Sev Sarmento do additional adaptations to the lyrics to make the show fit Pinoy sensibilities and realities," he says. The show includes the addition of a character called Ana, a little girl who is "transported into Prince Tamino's magical world."

"These devices are our efforts to bring opera closer and more accessible to the Filipino audience," he says. "Children are the hardest audience to please. Either they like it or they don't." The show is in good hands. After all, Jimenez is the man behind the country's longest running children's educational television program, "Batibot."

Proven So good, in fact, that this run at the Cultural Center of the Philippines is already the third for the production. "We first staged this in Pampanga years ago. We had no idea it would be this well-received. We had our second run in 2006 also at the CCP," he says.

This latest incarnation has incorporated some changes that have developed since the original run. The "Yellow Submarine"-inspired animation has worked well enough with audiences that when female singers were not available to portray the Queen of the Night for the show's second run, an animated version of the character was developed and is now a permanent element of the show.

"It's a really great way to expose children to opera so that they grow up not being afraid of it. But this show is not just for children, it's a show even adults can enjoy," he says. As an added treat, adults who grew up watching "Batibot" will get a chance to see one of the show's mainstays, Bodjie "Kuya Bodjie" Pascua, sing opera as he tackles the role of Papageno.

"I really appreciate the creative risks that the POC takes. They have a lot of ideas that are brave and they tap different directors who are not necessarily opera directors to infuse new blood into opera. The purists may not like it, but if it will help bring in new audiences for opera, then it's very exciting," he says.

Appreciation Founded in 1999, the POC is committed to developing opera appreciation among Filipinos by performing in malls, churches, community centers, government agencies, private corporate organizations, parks, and schools throughout the country.

POC's 2008 season will round out in October with two productions. To coincide with the 150th anniversary of Giacomo Puccini's birth, his opera La Boheme (on which the musical "Rent" is loosely based) will be staged at the CCP Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo. This staging, to be directed by Floy Quintos, will update the material originally set in 1830 to the 21st century, following the stories of a circle of young artists' struggle against poverty and their quest for integrity. Helen Quach will be conducting the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.

There will also be a restaging of Terrence McNally's Tony Award-winning play "Master Class" at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater, RCBC Plaza in Makati City. Cherie Gil will portray the legendary opera diva Maria Callas with Michael Williams directing.

Magic Flute runs from Sept. 19 to 27 at the CCP Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino. For details, call Philippine Opera Company (892-8786), TicketWorld (891-9999) or CCP Box Office (832-1125 loc. 1801-1806). Log on to www.philippineoperacompany.com

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